Irritating One Another toward Maturity

by Paul Tautges | November 8, 2011 10:52 am

Hebrews 10:23-25 exhorts us, Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

A crucial building block of Christ-centered community is the mutual encouragement of believers toward Christlikeness that helps to prevent our own apostasy. This is essential since the capacity to leave the truth lies within every human heart. By nature, we are all like Demas, capable of falling in love with the temporal things of this world and deserting the work of Christ (2 Tim. 4:10). However, as we continually apply Christ-centered truths, and keep the implications of the cross evident in our relationships within the body, we feed one another’s growth and perform preventive maintenance on our souls.

The writer of Hebrews compels us, “let us consider” (10:24). The word “consider” means, “to place the mind down upon … to consider thoughtfully.” In short, the writer is insisting that believers take careful note of one another’s spiritual welfare. We are to keep an eye on one another, to hold one another accountable for our spiritual walks, because our common hope in Christ results in a binding relationship for mutual growth. The purpose of this practice of biblical fellowship is “to stimulate one another.” “Stimulate” comes from a word meaning “irritating, inciting, stimulation.” It is translated “disagreement” in Acts 15:39 with reference to the dispute between Paul and Barnabas. Solomon said, “Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Prov. 27:17). Believers are to irritate each other toward growth. This refers to a healthy tension that promotes growth, since biblical change normally takes place alongside other people. However, too many believers avoid difficult situations or people that challenge their thinking when, in reality, God intends to use others to move us toward spiritual maturity. Timothy Lane and Paul Tripp, in How People Change[1], observe,

At one level we want friendships. At another level we don’t want them! In creation, we were made to live in community, but because of the fall, we tend to run from the very friendships we need. Quite often, our longing for them is tainted by sin. We pursue them only as long as they satisfy our own desires and needs. We have a love–hate relationship with relationships! The Bible recognizes this profound tension, but still places our individual growth in grace in the context of the body of Christ. The Scriptures call us to be intimately connected to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Our fellowship is an essential ingredient for lasting change. The work of redemption involves our individual relationship with Christ alongside our relationship with others … Many helpers fail to move struggling people into the rich context of redemptive relationships. Instead, they cling to the arid individualism of our society. They have a “Jesus and me” mindset as they battle sin and seek to become more like Christ.

In contrast to the pride of individualism, God wants His people to be faithful in meeting together for the purpose of inciting one another “to love and good deeds.” It is through this stimulus that believers help one another fulfill Ephesians 2:10: “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”

The times when we are tempted to avoid others are the very times we need to be the most steadfastly committed to fellowship in the church. Mark Dever and Paul Alexander[2] remind us, “We can’t live the Christian life alone. We are saved individually from our sins, yet we are not saved into a vacuum. We’re saved into a mutually edifying community of believers who are building each other up and spurring each other on to love and good deeds.” The church is a body consisting of many parts, none of which can thrive on its own (1 Cor. 12).

  1. How People Change:
  2. Mark Dever and Paul Alexander:

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